Last night the newest reboot of the Looney Tunes, The Looney Tunes Show aired on the Cartoon Network and I didn’t watch it, but there are a bunch of clips floating about such as the above. The show is billed as a new concept for the venerable characters — Bugs and Daffy have moved to the suburbs and are roommates and have wacky neighbors. YOU know…a sitcom. You should probably give this clip it a watch before you read the following, because I wouldn’t want to prejudice anyone.
Rebooting the Looney Tunes is one of the most thankless tasks on earth, and the general level of wretchedness of the various efforts over the years testifies to how pointless it is. The original cartoons from the ’30s through the ’50s are one of the great miracles of comedy — a unique blending together of the right people in the right time and place as great directors — Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng — collaborated with great voice actors — Mel Blanc — great designers, great scenarists and a great composer — Carl Stalling — to create a one of a kind body of work that pretty much defines the cartoon short. Sight gags, catchphrases, classic situations — Meep meep! — these cartoons and characters are woven into the fabric of our culture even more than the Disney characters, who have evolved into icons while their cartoon adventures have largely been forgotten.
So, bringing them back? Why not write a new Monty Python sketch and a new Alan Moore SWAMP THING while you’re at it — you’d have as much chance of capturing the magic of the original.
But the characters are still licensing giants, still popular and the brand must be freshened. Thus we’ve had Tiny Toons, which turned them into babies, and the ghastly, horrific Loonatics Unleashed, which re-imagined the characters as futuristic mecha versions. And yeah, SPACE JAM, which introduced a great R. Kelly song to the world. The other day I had the TV on and what turned out to be LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION was on, a live action/cartoon amalgam which starred Brendan Fraser, as required by law, and. oddly, Steve Martin as Crispin Glover. It wasn’t as bad as Loonatics, but it was still fairly painful.
Jaime Weinman has a piece called “Why It’s Hard o Write for Bugs Bunny” which analyzes some of the story problems with the characters:
So the writer of a “traditional” Bugs Bunny cartoon usually has to come up with a strong story where the protagonist’s victory (or even the nature of his victory) is never in doubt, where the protagonist rarely takes the antagonist seriously, and where the story stops moving forward as soon as the protagonist decides he wants to win. There’s not a single aspect of a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon that wouldn’t be thrown out of a screenwriting class, or that would get past an executive giving notes on good story structure. So the classic-style cartoon might be unrevivable, not because there aren’t people who can do it, but because no TV network would accept it in that form.
All true. Plus, the cartoons were just anarchic comedy, impossible to create on demand. Back in the day, I spent a year editing the Looney Tunes comic book for DC, and while I was honored and excited to be working on these classic characters, I didn’t have much hope for the final product, either. My predecessor in the job passed along the concept that these were simple gag comics, full of jokes and sight gags. There were some noble attempts — and some pretty good ones by Dan Slott and Sam Henderson — but nothing I’d put up as a portfolio piece. The real Bugs, Daffy, Yosemitem and Wile E. Coyote are all reactive, chaotic cyphers without internal life or motivation. Telling stories about them that reflect their natures is all but impossible.
But Bugs and Daffy and company live on in the popular imagination. When I heard about the “suburban” concept, I thought it might be okay, but only if they let Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer write it, or they did it like this:
Okay, not very likely.
The Looney Tunes Show clip at the top does not fill my heart with confidence. WHY is Daffy such a dimwit????? WHY is the pacing so glacial? Bugs and Daffy have been reduced to less charismatic versions of Ray Romano and Kevin James — and the result is a life-crushing bore. Can’t we just watch a rerun of Drawn Together instead?
Maybe I should give a whole show a look before I pass judgement but…there may be better things I can do with my time, especially when I read character bios like the following for “Tina,” a love interest for one of the leads:
Tough and street-smart, Tina is Daffy’s girlfriend because she “loves a project.”
Tough and street-smart. Can you throw in some more clichés while you are at it?
BTW, if you want to know my pick for the best sketch comedy of the last decade, I would have to pick Mitchell and Webb. One “Get Me Hennimore” sketch will eliminate the need to watch hours and hours of sitcoms, cartoon or live action:
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.